July 03, 2009

By William Croyle - Cincinnati Enquirer

Critter Smith flew on an airplane for the first time June 27.

'It was awesome taking off and looking out the window at how high we were,' he said.

But that was nothing compared to what was waiting for him and his mom, Carol, after they landed in Milwaukee.

They were flown there as guests of KISS, one of the world's most famous rock-n-roll bands, for a concert that night.

Critter got to meet the band - Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Eric Singer and Tommy Thayer - before the show, take pictures during the show and returned home with a stash of memorabilia almost too big to carry.

'When Tommy was on stage, he came down and gave me his pick,' Critter said. 'And Eric walked right up to me and gave me his drumsticks. It was pretty sweet.'

They also gave him a load of KISS merchandise, including notebooks, pencils, trading cards, action figures and...

'Look, they gave me a KISS toothbrush that plays 'Rock and Roll All Nite' when you brush your teeth,' Critter said with a big smile.

The 11-year-old was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer of the white blood cells, in July 2007. For the next five months he underwent five rounds of chemotherapy and a round of radiation.

On Nov. 9, 2007, he received a bone marrow transplant and spent six weeks in the hospital. He returned to Fourth Street Elementary School, and was in remission for 15 months, until this past January.

He's been receiving chemotherapy all year and is back in remission. He'll continue treatments for three years, then must wait another five years before he can be declared cured.

When a story about Critter that appeared on in March mentioned his love for KISS, word circulated among KISS fans and eventually reached Keith Leroux, who manages the band's Web site and merchandising. Leroux contacted the band, which was rehearsing in South America for its current tour.

The next day, while in Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Critter received two calls - one from Stanley and one from Singer. They gave him words of encouragement and invited him to a concert.

'I knew they said they'd do something for him, but I never expected this,' Carol Smith said about the all-expenses-paid trip. 'I don't think I'd ever seen Critter so happy. He was on top of the world.

Critter (whose real name is Christopher) said the band was in full makeup when he met them back stage before the show.

'Paul walked in and was like 'Hey Gene, this is Chris,'' Critter said. 'It was so cool that Paul knew who I was.'

Critter said Simmons was 'a really big guy, and really nice guy.'

'He said to me - well, I can't remember what he said to me,' Critter said. 'I was just so stunned.'

Leroux said the band does things like this quite often, but is pretty humble about it.

'They do a lot and donate a lot, but they don't like credit for it,' Leroux said. 'They're really good guys.'

Stan Smith, Critter's dad, said the band's generosity has lifted his son's spirits.

'It's just so nice of them to do all of this for him,' he said.

Critter's next chemotherapy treatment will be Tuesday. He said he dreads having to go through it each time, but KISS makes it more bearable.

'They really help me,' Critter said. 'KISS music really makes me happy.'